After 18 months of virtual interactions due to COVID-19, market researchers and industry insiders reconnected in-person this month in sunny Pasadena, California, for SampleCon 2021. Held at the luxurious resort, “The Langham,” it was the best way to bring the conference back and regain a sense of normalcy.

Key Takeaways from SampleCon

From day one, you could hear and feel the excitement of new trends in the online sample industry. The consensus – business is good. Sample demand is at an all-time high. Demand is so high that it’s difficult for companies to fulfill it.

With the good, comes the bad. “The Great Resignation” has, like so many other industries, seriously disrupted the sample industry. Many online sample companies are having a hard time retaining employees. They either get offered more money elsewhere or decide to fulfill their personal ambitions. During one of the conference sessions, an executive lamented about losing employees, in some cases, not to better pay but to their desire to become yoga instructors. The pandemic has changed people’s perspective on life and what they value., and it’s playing out in the workforce.

But the message that seemed to dominate the main stage, panel sessions, and conversations amongst peers is “the jig is up.” Attendees heard this repeatedly throughout the three-day conference. Let’s unpack what that means for the sample industry.

Basic Economics

The pandemic has disrupted supply chains across the board. A chip shortage is slowing car production and lumber, oil, and rental car shortages are driving rates up. After being in lockdown for nearly a year and a half, the world is slowly reopening, and pent-up demand is causing a rush on goods and services.

Similarly, online sample is not immune to this phenomenon.

So, sample price is increasing. This reveals the industry’s overreliance on API integrations with exchange platforms for the past 8-10 years, instead of investing in their own online panel assets. The industry is now questioning its sample practices.

Decentralization

While APIs with exchange platforms can serve a purpose, sample companies are starting to realize that relying solely on exchanges makes them vulnerable. Exchange platforms have benefited from controlling the buying and selling of sample for a decade. Early on, they offered an abundance of cheap sample, which was very appealing to market research companies, so they bought it. Online sample companies would sell their sample in the exchanges because it was convenient. Exchanges facilitated the process of selling and buying sample.

Fast forward to today. COVID-19 exposed the dependency on the exchange platforms, and sample companies were hit with the realization that investments need to be made in their online panels again, essentially sending a message to exchanges that “the jig is up.”

But will this cause a decentralization from the sample exchange systems? Uber centralized the ridesharing industry once controlled by taxis. Their lower prices drove early adoption. As Uber’s pricing increased, however, people started to wonder if they should start using taxis again. Similarly, Airbnb used to be an affordable alternative to standard hotels, but as it’s become more popular, it’s become more expensive. In many instances, a consumer is better off staying at a hotel because it’s cheaper than Airbnb. Is the jig up?

What’s to Come

Sample has become limited and more expensive due to high demand and low supply. Exchanges can no longer offer cheap sample to the masses due to centralization of sample.

This effect is seen in every industry and business that created a centralized model chasing aspirations of disruption. Now, the question is if over the next six to eight months, when supply and demand normalize and supply chains resume full capacity, will we see everything balance out.

No one knows what will happen. But forward-thinking panel companies and big players in the sample industry are creating internal exchange systems and will go back to re-investing in their own panel assets. The expense of sample will be higher, but overall, this may be the adjustment needed to stabilize the industry. There is no lack of innovation in the sample industry, and a new business model is likely to be created to meet demand. But one thing is certain, “the jig is up.”